We have reported several times in recent years on the poor state of children’s social care, and in 2016 concluded that the Department for Education (the Department) was worryingly complacent that nothing could be done to improve services more quickly. While the Department considers children’s social care to be its most important responsibility and seeks to increase its knowledge about demand pressures, it still has not done enough to make the quality or finances of children’s social care sustainable. We are disappointed that it has not set out the sustainable improvement it seeks to achieve for children.
For the avoidance of doubt, we expect the Department to improve both the quality and the cost-effectiveness of children’s social care in measurable ways by its goal of 2022. This will require a step-change in the Department’s understanding of pressures, the reduction of unnecessary variation between areas in their social care activities and the costs of providing them, and greater pace in its work with struggling local authorities. The sector is not financially sustainable: 91% of local authorities exceeded their budgets for spending on children’s services in 2017–18. It is imperative that the Department get to grips with its understanding of demand pressures if it is to make a compelling case for adequate resources in the anticipated spending review. The disconnect between the Department for Education making policy and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government allocating funding can only be a hindrance to improving services and needs resolving.
As a Committee, we see all too often that decisions in one area of Government can increase spending elsewhere or in the future. High quality, effective, early support for children is not only vital for them and their families, but beneficial for the taxpayer as well.
Published: 22 March 2019